Holler: Draft-speak commences

Rick Spielman (Kevin Brown/Viking Update)

So the Vikings say they are willing to trade their No. 3 pick. Of course they are. They are willing to do anything in the draft – for the right price. Welcome to the first utterance of draft-speak.

It's been a long time since the Vikings have been in the type of draft position they are currently. Not since 1985 did the Vikings have a pick this high, and that year they traded down to the No. 4 pick in a bizarre three-way trade exchange with Houston and Atlanta in which the Oilers went from the second pick to the third, the Vikings went from the third to the fourth and Atlanta moved up to the second pick. For the record, Atlanta took Bill Fralic with the second pick, Houston took Ray Childress with the third and the Vikings took Chris Doleman with the fourth pick – all coming after Buffalo started the draft by taking Hall of Famer Bruce Smith.

As it currently stands, there is realistically nowhere to trade but down if the Vikings are going to make a deal.

As such, the Vikings are going to be the subject of a lot of trade speculation, especially if players like Robert Griffin III and/or Justin Blackmon have a lights-out performance at the NFL Scouting Combine.

For the first time in a long time, the Vikings are going to be the subject of draft-speak – a term that fans will come to know much more intimately over the next three months.

Draft-speak isn't the same as coach-speak, in which the true meaning can be deciphered if one pays close attention to what the coach is saying. Draft-speak is just the opposite. It's the black ops of the NFL. What's white is black. What's black is white. Believe nothing you hear and 50 percent of what you see. It's a "through the looking glass" world in which nothing is what it seems.

In the social media world we now live in, rumors are going to run as rampant as ever. It's going to be harder to keep news from leaking of a visit between a team and a prospect. Agents will tweet. Family members will tweet. The players themselves will tweet or take to Facebook to show photos of their travels to Minnesota, Miami, San Francisco, etc. It could be argued had we lived in the social media age as recently as when the Vikings made their covert visits under assumed names to quietly work out Tarvaris Jackson (a little too stealthy for their own good), such a visit would never have remained largely unreported until after the draft. The new landscape of information gathering is going to make the 2012 draft a reality version of Fact or Crap. Under these conditions, draft-speak will carry a lot more validity than it ever has.

At it's core, draft-speak is the systematic use of the media to get team-sponsored propaganda out. The NFL is so competitive and so protective of its own intelligence gathering ability that it can be assumed that any coach or general manager or owner who comments on a player is doing so for a reason. There have been times when teams have used players to disguise their true intentions – the soul of draft-speak. For years, Jimmy Kennedy held a grudge against the Vikings. He was the only defensive tackle brought in prior to the 2003 draft by the Vikings, who, at the time had started to become much more reclusive in terms of the players they had an interest in. Kennedy hated the Vikings because, as he told VU years later, he knew within a few minutes of entering Winter Park that his visit was for no other purpose than to throw other teams off the scent of the player they truly coveted – Kevin Williams. Despite a delay of game when the time came to draft Big Kev, the Vikings got the player they wanted all along and, by botching two picks, got him cheaper than had they made the call on time. It all worked out, but it pulled back the curtain on the depths to which draft-speak runs.

Was it a coincidence that both Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher were quoted at the Senior Bowl that they would listen to offers for their draft pick? In the world of draft-speak, it would be ridiculous to say that you aren't going to entertain offers, but, in its own subtle way, it lets anyone who covets a player at the top of the draft – whether it's someone who has to have QB Robert Griffin III or WR Justin Blackmon– know that the Rams and Vikings are willing to listen. In a market-driven NFL economy, the purposeful quotes let everyone drafted behind hear "make us an offer we can't refuse."

The bottom line on draft-speak is that anything that is said by someone in a position of decision-making power isn't by chance. It's intentional, whether to falsely inflate their interest in a player they have no intention of drafting or throwing out red herrings to get the word out and have the other war rooms thinking they're going to zig when they have every intention to zag.

Competition is the essential concept to sports and, as one can imagine, the higher up you get on the sporting food chain, the more competitive things get. Mike Shanahan is the evil poster boy of draft-speak. Any comment attributed to Shanny should be viewed in the completely opposite light. If he says he really likes a player, odds are he doesn't.

In reality, the darkest side of draft-speak comes with the first five picks. That is where the big-time, blue-chip, can't-miss prospects reside. The Vikings haven't been in the rarified air for more than a quarter-century, which is a good thing for Vikings fans. But, coming off a 3-13 season, they find themselves there.

Consider your draft-speak 101 class now in session. Pay attention to what you hear and file it away. When the draft is over, you'll see it from a different light than you do now.


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    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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